Problem skin – psychodermatology and the holistic approach

Could a nutritional therapist cure your acne or eczema?  It’s highly possible.  Equally a psychiatrist could help.  New approaches to ‘problem’ skin don’t always involve the latest hyped products. According to The Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology there’s ‘compelling evidence’ that high GL (glycemic load) diets may exacerbate acne. Research suggests the spike in insulin caused by starchy, sugary foods and drinks could lead to acne by boosting sebum production. So follow the guidelines given in the previous post regarding sugar (don’t forget that alcohol counts too). Although the evidence connecting dairy foods and acne is weaker, dairy may still be a contributing factor so try substituting nut milks (almond, cashew) for cow’s milk and easing off cheese and see if it makes a difference. Vitamin and mineral deficiencies can also play a part so it may be worth consulting a well-qualified nutritional therapist.

Stress can be another large factor, so much so that a new field, psychodermatology, has psychiatrists working in tandem with dermatologists to treat skin conditions by tackling the causes of stress. ‘Heightened stress causes overproduction of adrenaline and cortisol,’ says holistic facialist and natural beauty expert Eminé Ali Rushton, founder of The Balance Plan, ‘and those wreak havoc with hormonal balance. Acne has a definite hormonal link.’

Choosing the wrong skincare may also play a part. ‘One of the theories that may explain the growing number of people with sensitive skin is the excessive use of cosmetics, says dermatologist Dr Tiina Meder. ‘Experimenting with low quality cosmetics can lead to increased skin sensitivity and even eczema-like conditions.’

Dermatologists uniformly shudder at the idea of drowning the skin in heavy products or engaging in overly elaborate skin routines – truly no skincare routine needs 27 steps. Keep it simple, using lighter serums, creams and oils that allow skin to breathe. Kerstin Florian’s BerryPlus Repair Serum (£72;, for example, is rich in concentrated phytonutrients and antioxidants but feels weightless on the skin.

According to the Eczema Society, one in five children and one in twelve adults in the UK have eczema. ‘We still do not know enough about the role of diet in eczema,’ says the Eczema Society who say the most common food triggers are cow’s milk and eggs, but many other foods including soya, wheat, fish and nuts may also cause problems. The only way to find out for sure is to try an exclusion diet (under the guidance of a nutritional therapist or other healthcare professional).

Look for very gentle, all-natural creams to soothe dry, raw skin. Always try a patch test before using widely as even natural ingredients can cause reactions. Calendulis Plus Cream™ (£16.95, is a gentle cream designed specifically for people with eczema, containing skin-soothing calendula, antioxidant Centella asiatica, propolis and Manuka honey.

Ageing skin
The bad news is that older women can lose as much as 30 percent of their skin collagen in the five years following menopause. While good diet is essential, mature skin really does need extra support from supplements and skin preparations. While hyaluronic acid, collagen and peptides are always important, they become absolutely essential as your skin gets older. In a large double-blind, placebo-controlled study in 2014, women took 2.5 g of a collagen peptide once a day. After eight weeks, researchers measured a 20 percent reduction in wrinkle depth around the women’s eyes.
Ingenious Beauty Ultimate Collagen+ (£75; is a potent daily supplement in capsule form that uses a marine collagen peptide for better absorption. Lumity (£90; is a new brand which claims to boost collagen formation in the skin, clear out toxins, repair oxidative damage and help protect DNA. It includes two sets of supplements – one for morning, one for night-time.

Hyaluronic acid is widely consumed in Japan, where many studies have shown it can help both joint pain and skin health. One Japanese study found that taking hyaluronic acid internally increased skin moisture and improved skin condition.  It’s also worth applying hyaluronic acid topically. NIOD’s Multi-Molecular Hyaluronic Complex (£38; is a sophisticated formulation that combines 12 forms of hyaluronic compounds in a peptide-charged delivery system. To boost the effect use it alongside Copper Amino Isolate Serum (from £38; Copper is a natural anti-oxidant that helps the development of collagen and elastin, and promotes the production of hyaluronic acid.

Retinol is a vitamin A derivative that comes into its own with older skin, stimulating collagen and boosting sluggish skin turnover. You need pure retinol for older skin, and only use it at night to avoid sun-sensitivity. Find it in Pestle & Mortar’s Superstar Retinol Night Oil (£63, combined with skin softening natural oils and botanicals.

Finally, Dragon’s Blood Sap may sound like something out of Harry Potter but it’s actually one of the most powerful antioxidants known, with double the power of green tea. EKIA’s gentle organic range (from £18.99, is built around the sap of the Croton Lechleri tree from the Amazon forest. Clinical trials found the range increases the production of collagen and elastin, making skin firmer and wrinkles less obvious. Pure alchemy.


This is the last part of my feature on winter skincare.  Scroll back for the first two parts – the first covers general nutritional guidelines, the second looks at ayurveda and winter skin.  A version of this first appeared in Spirit & Destiny magazine.

Photo by Melanie Kreutz on Unsplash

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